Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Standard | Online Edition : Obama’s ‘revolution’ brewed in the African pot of ‘ubuntu’

Published on 24/02/2011

By Mangoa Mosota

US President Barack Obama’s successful run for the White House in 2008 was grounded in humanist philosophy, utu in Kiswahili, or ubuntu, as is commonly called in Bantu communities, an attribute well appreciated in most of Africa.

And Kenya, the land of Obama’s father, played a pivotal role in ingraining that principle in Obama through the steady base of his immediate and extended family.

Prof Horace Campbell, who was in the country this week to launch Barack Obama and Twenty-First-Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment In The USA provides interesting perspectives on the evolution of Obama from a community organiser to President.

Campbell, a political science professor at Syracuse University in US, is a pan-Africanist who spent most of his adult life in Africa, away from his land of birth, Jamaica.

He says Obama’s Kenyan grandmother, Sarah Obama, played a key role in making him understand the history of his grandfather, Hussein Onyango, and the Luo community at large.

Campbell enumerates the many challenges Obama faced in his quest for the presidency, including racism and economic crisis, which he refers to as economic terrorism engineered to plague his campaign.

Campbell extensively quotes Obama’s seminal autobiography, Dreams from My Father, to reinforce his arguments about Kenya having played a pivotal role in Obama’s evolution.

Five Great Women

"In the estimation of this writer," Campbell writes about Obama’s turning point by his father’s graveside, "This is when Obama made the decision that he was going to soar and be a beacon of light for the new relations between humans transcending race, ethnicity and religion."

In the book, the author brings out Obama’s appreciation of the five women who shaped his life, among them his white grandmother, fondly known as Toot, and mother. Campbell says the duo taught young Obama pragmatic tendencies that included being realistic about future tasks in his life.

Prof Horace Campbell with a book enthusiast and (inset) the book. Campbell was in Kenya to launch his book: Barack Obama and Twenty-First-Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment In The USA [PHOTO: Mangoa Mosota/STANDARD]

Many white Democrats saw Obama as one of the millions of blacks in the US. But Obama employed ubuntu, the shared humanity, to reach to American voters.

Campbell is emphatic that for close to 80 years, the Democratic Party was centred around ethnic politics and party bosses were linked to the very rich; real estate developers and bankers in urban centres.

He writes that the Clintons’ (former President Bill and his wife, Hillary, now US Secretary of State) control of Democratic Party between 1992 and 2008 gave them false hopes of their domination of the party machinery.

This control gave the Clintons a sense that Hillary’s victory in the primaries was a foregone conclusion.

Obama, however, sought to change this through ubuntu to appeal to the whole spectrum of American society. Campbell elaborates that through this humanist philosophy, Black Americans overcame the racist tag that consigned them as less human. More